B.C.’s emergency dispatch system sees improvement in calls answered

B.C.’s emergency dispatch system says they have seen an improvement in their response system as part of a multi-year transformation plan.

E-Comm says 2023 marked the first full year of a five-year plan, approved by its board in November 2022, addressing the “long-standing challenges by providing funding, staff, and capacity to implement needed improvements.”

E-Comm’s Dave Cunningham tells CityNews they had a tough few years ahead of the improvements.

“We had a couple of really tough years coming out of the pandemic, with high call volumes, staff shortages, and also a real lack of investment in our systems,” he said.

E-Comm says it achieved its best result in 5 years in 2023, with quicker wait times for both emergency and non-emergency calls.

“Our employees play a critical role in public safety as the lifeline for the public and first responders, and it is through their collective efforts that we’ve seen positive momentum from the changes that have been implemented to date,” says E-Comm chief transformation officer Nancy Blair.

The service provider says the 11 per cent increase in 911 calls for police, fire, or ambulance in 2023 was met with 98 per cent of all calls being answered in less than 5 seconds.

“We got through it thanks to some heroic efforts from our staff, and it’s really our local municipalities that have stepped up to help fund improvements,” said Cunningham.

Last March, the province announced $150 million in funding to upgrade the system.

It came after a stretch of bad news over the last few years, with British Columbians reporting being on hold with 911 for minutes at a time and even longer during critical times like the 2021 heat dome.

Hundreds of people died in that event, some after waiting upwards of 12 hours for an ambulance.

E-Comm also reports that it has exceeded its service level for fire emergencies, answering 93 per cent of its calls within 15 seconds.

It reports key improvements were made through new teams, tech, and training, increased recruitment, retention and employee support, and next-generation 911 cybersecurity improvements.

Though, Blair adds, “There’s more work to do, and we’re committed to building on the progress made last year, in order to provide the best possible service to the public and our first responder partners while ensuring our employees are properly supported.”

With files from Srushti Gangdev

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